Friday, September 30, 2005

The Third World laptop

Researchers at MIT are on the cusp of democratising the IT Revolution. A prototype of a $100 laptop which runs a 500 MHz Linux flash drive notebook will be unveiled in November. It will be powered by AC or hand crank.

R&D saves the world again.

Socialist was a tax avoider

The Brit National Archives has just released details of EA Blair's tax record. Better known as George Orwell, the records show how the socialist tried to save his family from crippling death duties after the success of 1984 and Animal Farm.

It reminds me when I was going out with Miss Machete and she was working for a left-wing small business owner. We went to a Christmas party he threw at a pub in Blair St for the team. Miss Machete's boss was talking about this great mythical socialist paradise where everyone paid their dues. In annoyance, I asked him if he would claim the Christmas party as a business expense and lower his tax bill. But of course he would!

I Dream of FoNZIE

There has been some heated discussion over at The Whig's on where Act should go from here. He lists 11 policies that Act should use to rebrand and reassert itself as a party of innovation, shit-stirring and setting the agenda. As far as 3:30am policymaking goes, it's not a bad list. Let's have a look.

1. Catherine Judd should resign as president

Assume Whig's dissection is all correct. If not Catherine, then who? No matter how justified one might feel about an incumbent, who could do a better job? Who wants to be a party president? In the political circus, the party president is a platespinner.

From time to time, the audience gives the platespinner their own homemade stick and platter and somehow the platespinner has to successfully integrate it into the act. If the audience finds the performance clumsy or disharmonious from time at any time, they demand a refund. It is a tiring, thankless task which engenders fear and loathing all around.

2. Talk flat tax

Yeeeeaaaah I suppose... Flat tax is an eventual goal for Act, as dictated in Unfinished Business. However, Act has yet to work out a path to this which doesn't give the General Electorate the shits. They've got to sell it better. Explain the Why, the When and the What now. Inform, don't preach. Entertain, don't patronise. Know your arguments, don't read a teleprompter.

For example, when my old man went around the country selling GST and dodging rotten eggs back in the '80s, he made a wager. If anyone was demonstrably worse off after the introduction of GST, he would personally fly them to Wellington and shout them dinner. No-one ever took him up on the offer.

3. Raise the age for Superannuation

No way, José. The Maori Party had a point about lowering the age of superannuation for Their People. Poor people die younger, thereby subsiding the virtuous wealthy who live as long as their private health insurance policy allows. OK, subsidise might be the wrong word, but you get the drift. National Superannuation is the scheme that keeps Boxer the horse happy, dreaming of the day he will retire to green pastures and live out his days in peace. In reality, he overworks himself and gets knackered. Only the pigs get to retire as they live longer through home comforts.

Somehow, the current scheme has to be grandparented and a tax transfer system set up that skims personal income into retirement savings schemes. This would increase NZ's level of savings, improve investment capital for the NZ market, return private responsibility to individuals' personal decisions and provide probably the only asset that some Kiwis will ever have. This is not a million miles away from Cullen's favoured Kiwisaver. Cut back on the arbitrariness of it and you might be on to something.

The trick will be how to top up the lower end of the scale when they reach a retirement age. And should the retirement age be indexed as a proportion of the average lifespan? While no system is fair, at least an indexed retirement age would de-politicise the issue and give some reliability for those poor sods who almost reach retirement and then the government raises the limit again.

4. Neutrality

The good thing about NZ is that we are completely inoffensive to other countries. We are neutral by default. We are unlikely to ever be attacked by our closest neighbours. Australians can't be arsed, the penguins don't care and the Pacific Island nations wouldn't say Boo to a Schmoo. NZ is in a primo spot to play China and the US off each other and neutrality is a subtle way of accomplishing this.

If we are to have any armed forces, we should have kick-ass specialist ones. Our SAS should be better than Navy Seals, our air force should be able to monitor trespassers in our territorial waters, our frigates should make better interceptors than bars.

5. Abolish the Petrol Tax and Use Tolls to Pay for Roading
6. Scrap the RMA
7. Republicanism
11. Tino Rangatiratanga


I dream of FoNZIE, the Federation of New Zealand Independent Enclosures. It is an idea loosely based on Tino Rangatiratanga and its ideal of self-determination, and former convict/ New Zealand Company bastard Edward Gibbon Wakefield's city-state scheme but without his class mentality. In short, let's go back to the provinces.

City councils around the country are already thinking the same thing. They need to co-ordinate with their neighbours in order to develop their patches. The Wellington and Orkland region mayors in particular are looking at some larger structure than their current incarnations.

The Local Government Act 2003 gives them something to work with. Unfortunately, this legislation wasn't balanced by a corresponding lowering of national bureaucracy. Instead of a transfer of responsibility, we have one complicated set of rules sliced and diced by a thick scum of national public servants AND another thick scum of local body bureaucrats adding to the rulebook as well. No wonder the punters lose hope or go overseas.

The needs of Orkland are not the needs of Christchurch. Let each region do what it knows is best based on local knowledge and co-operation not some pre-formulated, abstract crap from Central Services. It's all about districts; district police, district courts, district nurses, district hospitals, district schools, district councils. This ties into the central premise of classic liberal government; its default setting is to stay the fuck out of our faces. If we want help, we'll ask for it. Our present form of governance does neither.

8. Halve the tax on alcohol and cigarettes

Health insurance companies love smokers. They pay higher premiums and die earlier and quicker than non-smokers. Because the government has declared Smoking Is Bad, there's no way they will regulate health premiums for smokers, asking health insurers to justify their rorts. Excise taxes have no bearing on the public costs of these good vices. The tax goes up with the CPI, guaranteeing an income stream that would make Tony Soprano proud.

Act could introduce a similar scheme to Fly Bys. I call it the Happy Daze card. Every time an alcohol or tobacco purchase is made, the excise tax from the sale is credited to the consumer's private health insurer thereby matching the cure with the medicine. The scheme is cost-effective as there is no need for the government to get a cut. Think of it as Truth in Taxation.

9. Start up a Space Programme!

Supporting an increase in R&D would be a start.

10. Licensed Cafes for Cannabis - Increase Penalties for Supply to Minors

Grant the first license to Paul Le Gros and trial a coffee shop in Wellington for two years. Thirty years of prohibition hasn't worked, so why not give it a try?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I'm scared of Americans

We live in a world of choice. Why, even the supermarket offers us twenty-eight varieties of toilet paper to wipe our arses with. Aren't we lucky. Andrew Gumbel writes in NZ Herald about a US company called CleanFlicks that offers a strange variation on 'choice'.

CleanFlicks (It's about choice!) unilaterally censors movies of anything remotely offensive. With God on their side, these fanatical editors have taken "excessive blood and gore" out of From Hell (presumably renamed From Heck), all the "language which refers to sexual activity or has sexual connotation" out of Young Frankenstein, and cleansed all the profanity from 8 Mile.

When filmmakers rightly claimed the service breached intellectual property rights, George Fucking Bush shut them down by passing the Family Movie Act. I swear it won't be long til they're burning books in that twisted country.

Through Cook Strait Darkly

Although I have lived 50 kilometres from Nelson half my life, I have never been there. It's a shame really, because it sounds like a nice place. It would be good to see it now before it becomes something else, Tauranga II for example. It's just that, well, it's too damned expensive to get there.

A round trip on the Interislander for one man and his car can cost as much as $255. Aside from the three-hourish crossing time, loading and unloading the vehicle can double the time reserved for the trip. Stuff that. For the same time and money I could fly to Fiji baby.

Time and money aren't the only pricetags. The hoo-ha over Toll's latest clanger, the Kaitaki, is a case in point. Toll might have meant well, trying to bring scales of economy to a prohibitively expensive but vital link between the Mainland and the Heartland. Evidence is growing though that the boat is way out of proportion to its surroundings. No-one in Toll considered whether the new boat could hook up at the ferry terminal. Now the Marlborough locals are pissed that the ship's wake is ripping the shit out of their shores. The latest on the latter can be read in detail in the Weekend DomPost offline A12.

Whatever happens, the only winners will be the lawyers. Toll risks losing up to $43 million a year through lost earnings if the Kaitaki is reduced to the speed of Jesus on the Galilee. Cruising the Strait will cost freight handlers and normal people even more in ludicrous tariffs. On the other hand, it would be a cold-blooded Kiwi who supports the shoreline getting carved up by such a blunt instrument. Decisions, decisions...

Instead of just bitching about things, goNZo Freakpower has researched possible solutions. The answer is simple. We need a bridge. Now before you say "Bullshit" and stop reading, please be patient. Imagine, just for a moment, a bridge spanning the Cook Strait from Cape Terawhiti in the north to Rununder Point in the south. Imagine hopping in your car with a bunch of mates and heading across the ditch for the afternoon and splitting the $30 toll between five of you. A World Wonder right here in NZ. Wouldn't it be good?

Engineering has come a long way since our antecedents constructed the Main Trunk Line. The world's longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, was built to withstand strong tidal currents, high winds and earthquakes. The Hangzhou Bay Trans-oceanic Bridge is a 36 kilometre long six-lane highway. An NZ version needn't be something like the dumpy, ugly and shortsighted Auckland Harbour Bridge with its cling-ons. One has only to admire the beauty of France's Viaduct de Millau to see what is possible.

I was having a smoke with an architect mate of mine last night when I brought this Think goNZo Scheme up. He remains sceptical of a cost-effective way to sink piles in an ocean floor that is up to 270 metres deep across a treacherous stretch of water that straddles a major faultline. However, he reckoned an idea he saw on the Discovery Channel about a Trans-Atlantic tunnel might do it. He's right, it's bloody brilliant idea.

In the spirit of the Ansari X Prize, I would like to see the NZ Government develop what I like to call the goNZo X Prize. Through private funding or government bonds, I would like to see a six- or seven-figure booty to inspire all of us to come up with a viable way to bring NZ together with a physical connection. We live an age of marvels, where dreams converge with the sciences. Space elevators made with carbon nanotubes and powered by lasers are a reality. What else is possible?

Whatever the outcome, the goNZo X Prize scheme would be a hell of a lot more value for money than another year of Judy Bailey.

A Ward Award

Former Green MP Mike Ward has moved from the Dark Arts to Inspirational Arts, winning the Montana World of WearableArt™ supreme prize in Wellington last night. Congratulations to Mr Ward. I only hope he can inspire other MPs to quit bossing other people about and get their arts into gear.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Spooky action at a distance

I'm staying right out of the latest Christian Heritage thread over at DPF's. The thread participants are stacked at two extremes. On one side, there's the Christian Heritage groupies. On the other, there's everybody else. Neither side is ever going to agree on anything, no matter how much logic is applied.

There is a damned good reason why religion and politics should stay apart. On their own they are harmless diversions of intellectual masturbation, making people feel good about themselves while releasing a bit of pressure. Both are rather personal matters built up over each person's lifetime. But mix politics and religion together and all you have is a bunch of wankers.

The cult of personality is alive and well and living in New Zealand. We have the old hat variety of Captain Sensible, Winston P and Chairman Jim. It is now clear that Graham Capill was the Christian Heritage Party. In the eyes of his groupies he can do no wrong, or at least nothing a dozen Hail Marys can't fix.

Thank Dagg for parties such as CHP and Destiny though. It is easier to keep an eye on them when they are grouped together like bluebottle jellyfish. Their continued existence is also preferable to the infiltrations of the Religious Right in some of the more mainstream parties.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Harm minimisation

The NZ Herald has a [P] epidemic on its hands. No, not methamphetamine, Premium Content. In the interests of health and safety, goNZo Freakpower lists below ways people can minimise the harm caused by this [P] epidemic:

1. RB suggests using Google to search the Herald by typing site:http://www.nzherald.co.nz/ followed by a space then your search query. Works like a charm. If NZ Herald end up blocking this, the cached version works fine too.

2. Colin James' Opinion column from NZ Herald is available here. Send him an email and Colin will personally email his columns to you. How's that for service, and IT'S FREE.

3. Email your favoured NZ Herald columnists and ask them to set up their own open-source opinion archive like Colin James does. Browse for their email addresses here.

4. Find some other columnists to read. New Zealand's coolest economist, Gareth Morgan, reposts his columns from the DomPost a week after print. Subscribe FOR FREE here, or read them online here.

Knowledge shared is knowledge gained. Add your suggestions in the comments section.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

NZ Herald's search for money

Well that's tossed it. The NZ Herald has unveiled its new revenue stream on unemployed researchers: Premium content searches at $3 a day or $99 a year. History comes with a price tag.

What do you want?

Yesterday I dissed Roger Kerr for wanting to have a referendum on MMP, assuming he wanted a return to FPP. My bad there, the article mentioned no such thing. Phil O'Reilly reckoned MMP's all good. They are both right.

Consumercitizens should constantly be appraising their system of governance, questioning to ensure the government machine does what we want it to. A permanent vote on the ballot paper, asking voters if they have confidence in the MMP system, couldn't be a bad thing. Not so long ago electorates were asked each election if they wished to remain dry or get wet, alcoholically speaking. The idea has precedent. Roger Kerr's statement is sound.

This year The General Electorate has shown a maturity and understanding of how MMP works, using eloquent tactical voting gambits while returning to the honesty of the the Great Urban/Rural Divide. Last term, Helen Cark demonstrated proficiency at playing minor parties off one another while maintaining a centrist-left government. She is the Spinball Wizard and this term it's multiball. So Mr O'Reilly is also right. The public has little reason to lose confidence in MMP. Yet.

John Campbell had the tangental Mike Moore on his show last night. The closest The Panda got to a point was that the public wanted a system of government that harnessed party power; instead they unleashed a monster. The Panda is right.

Never before has The General Electorate been so alienated from our representatives. Meet the Candidates meetings, with the exception of Aro Valley, are ill-attended affairs of 100 people if you're lucky. Most of those attendees are party hacks without a brain cell to sway to another cause. The party is Mother, the party is Father.

Communication between politicians and public is a one-way street of advertisements, direct mail and polling. Polling for example reverses the Q & A game. In the past, voters asked their candidates questions and the candidate replied. Nowadays the candidate-commissioned pollsters ask the questions and the voters reply. How fucked up is that?

Membership in political movements has gone the way of most community groups. Membership has plummeted, allowing power to coallesce relatively unchecked and making a mockery of the illusion of participatory democracy. The only party that still subscribes to consulting its members is the Maori Party with their hui. Look how much they are mocked.

Like Super 12 and One Day Cricket, MMP has reduced politics to a television entertainment, sold as a brand with presidential-style icons leading a dubious bunch of party chosen into an arcane parliamentary sytem. Door-knocking and talking to ordinary people has been replaced with soundbites and photo opportunities as the most efficient way of electioneering. All this is encouraged by the story-hungry packs of media hounds following the leaders around this election.

If anyone lost this election, it was the mainstream media. Once a refuge for some objectivity that voters could use to analyse the merits of our alleged representatives, an intrusive media has set their own agenda. TV3's unilateral exclusion of JAP and UFO and subsequent forced acquiesence showed the influence of the media on the outcomes in a poor light.

Bad polling presented as news by print and television media has damaged their credibility. Rodney Hide is justifiably pissed by this. By continually dissing Act, the media forced Act's vote down. Even Captain Sensible, looking radiant with a There's Something About Mary hairdo, lost his rag with the media on election night. Meanwhile, it seems Judith Tizard MP doesn't exist without media present.

But I digress. Winston Churchill once described democracy as the least worst system we've thought of so far. MMP is not perfect, but it's the best thing we've got. Philip Temple (Hattip DPF) reckons MMP just needs tweaking. As eminently respected as his opinion is, I would discount his two suggestions.

Increasing the electorate threshold from one to two seems arbitrary. Germany has a threshold of five electorates in a Bundestag of over 600 seats. Germany also has a bicameral system as opposed to our single House. Eliminating the single electorate parties in NZ would disproportionately increase the power of the Executive.

His second point, the one favoured by the Nats, is even more threatening. If there was ever a time to remove the Maori seats, it was with the introduction of MMP. Too late now. Any attempt to remove the Maori seats now, without any comparable trade-off to favour them, is futile. It would mean we have learnt nothing from our short history, nothing from our literature, nothing
from our movies. As Alan Moore once said, "Citizens should not fear their governments; governments should fear their citizens."

It is with this thought somewhere in her mind that Helen Clark looks to keep not only her leadership and the fortunes of Labour V in favour, but MMP's as well. If our three-yearly civil wars don't work, if stable government is not possible under this system, we will have to find something that does.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Welcome Back

When Locke Comes to Town

(to the tune of U2's When Love Comes to Town)

He was a Greenie, he was a List MP
His star was rising thanks to MMP
He had it all, he ate wholemeal bread
Now he's a laughing stock 'cause the things he's said

When Locke comes to town, he's gonna eat his words
When Locke comes to town, he's gonna shock those birds
Maybe he was wrong to ever open his mouth
But he did what he did in a posing pouch

He made a wager, he made a bet
He made a promise he would soon regret
His arse was pale as a vaudeville clown
That's what was said when Locke came to town

He ran right through Newmarket, he heard a lady scream
"I always thought your policies were too extreme"
As he ran down the block he saw his career drown
That was the day when Locke came to town

When Locke comes to town, Hide's gonna avert his eyes
When Locke comes to town, Clark will judge his size
Maybe he was wrong to ever open his mouth
But he did what he did before heading down south

He was there when EB crucified his creed
He held his tongue to stop the frenzied feed
He played the fiddle while his party burned
And he saw votes leave as stomachs turned

When Locke comes to town, he's gonna eat his words
When Locke comes to town, he's gonna shock those birds
Maybe he was wrong to ever open his mouth
But wait til the day he is back in the House!

Pain & Angst

All around conference tables today, there are politicians wailing and gnashing their teeth. Many will be having first aid applied to their egos by the end of the day. The General Electorate have spoken truly, the party hacks are pissed that there are things still beyond their control.

The news media are spreading a plague of ill bodings, fomenting tension of the What Happens Now. Colin James gets bulimic about the economy, while Brian Fallows asks for a barf bag. The DomPost has a two-week hangover, making BZP look tame by comparison. NZBR's Richard Kerr has predictably called for a re-examination of MMP, while Business NZ's Phil O'Reilly points out only a bad craftsman blames his tools.

Smokers, excusing themselves to bask in the chill spring sunshine, will be using these starting points to dissect every flaw of our newly-elected Electric Monks. Mel Brooks once said, "Tragedy is when I cut my little finger. Comedy is when you walk into a open sewer and die."

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Doctoring the children

Ritalin is a close relative of methamphetamine, commonly known as "P" or "the-evil-drug-that-turns-god-fearing-saints-into-homocidal-axe-wielding-maniacs". This is one of the most popular drugs fed to children by their parents. Over in Britain, where a lot of New Zealand policy comes from, health professionals are worried by the country having the highest prescription rate for child antidepressants in the world.

In order to 'cure' kids of a 'condition' such as ADHD, which has no objective tests available to prove its existence, parents there and here are prepared to risk screwing up their child's life with insomnia, loss of appetite and zombieism. As if kids don't have enough to blame their parents for already. These same parents will one day be horrified when their kids smoke marijuana of their own free will.

Well hung

What a night. What a result. What an overhang. What a hangover. My head feels like Winston P threw up in it.

I observed election night at the Museum Hotel, Mark Blumsky's HQ, spending all night juggling numbers with red wine as a learning aid. The last time I was in the Museum Hotel was in 1999, when Richard Prebble lost Wellington Central to BooBoo. This time round, I watched Mark Blumsky lose to BooBoo. Strangely, this time round wasn't nearly as painful.

The pain was mitigated by Rodney Hide winning Epsom. Never in my life have I been so happy at being proved wrong. Way to go, Rodney! For the first time since 1999, Act has a leader with an electorate seat and all the mana that goes with it. Keith Locke is now forced to strip and sprint starkers down Epsom's main drag or admit he made a promise he won't keep. Everybody wins.

It's not even that down-heartening to see Act lose seven seats. Muriel Newman has been cast aside, paving the way for the excellent Heather Roy to become Deputy Leader. The election result has forced a bloodletting in Act it so desperately needed, allowing it to rejuvenate with a less ideologically schizophrenic platform. The battle between the Libs and the Rabids, which caused a new policy vacuum for the party, is over. The Libs won.

Over at the Greens, Frog admits that Mike Ward is on his bike. Considering he spent most of last year on one, it certainly is a just conclusion. The special votes should get Nandor back in the House. I hope so. He's the only dude in the party I have time for. But if Nandor's back, which party loses a seat? If it's from Labour, then things get very bloody interesting indeed.

On current figures, Winston would be compelled by his pre-election stance to support Labour on confidence and supply. If Nandor gets back in, Labour and National will be tied and NZ First's options expand. Then again, I'm no wiz with the Saint-Legume formula. Some other party could lose a seat and toss things another direction.

Wherever it lands, it will be a horribly compromised minority government that heads into a hard economic landing. The fun is only just beginning.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Doctoring the OBERAC

We are finally nearing the ceasefire, when all bloggers, newspapers, television, billboards, posters and assorted electioneering symptoms must be removed from the public domain. From midnight tonight until the polling booths close at 7pm Saturday night, no partisan political broadcasts are allowed. Period.

Speaking of which, hasn't the mainstream media had a case of the woman's weeklies over the last four weeks? Policy direction has had a poor showing this election, bullied out by gossip, spite, mudflinging, scandals, kidnapping, marketing, photoshopping, opining, horoscopes, and more nutjobs than a Whittaker's Peanut Slab factory.

All credit then to the Nats for asking the Ombudsmen to kick some OIA arse on Treasury's student loan pricetag. Did any any of the media ask for the Treasury information or were they just going to take Labour's word for it? Thankfully, the Nats did the digging and shows up the Public Finance Amendment Act as the obsfucation it truly is.

Richard Prebble wrote back in March how dumping Ruth Richardson's Fiscal Responsibility Act paved the way for government fudging and manipulation of the books. We have now seen it in action. Michael Cullen can say the surplus is whatever he wants it to be, $1.9 billion can be buried in the budget, booty to buy ballots by bribery. The government's bullshit detectors, ie Treasury, have their information suppressed and reluctantly released only under duress.

It may have passed my attention, but no media investigations seem to exist demonstrating why this is such a flagrant disregard for the constitutional integrity of the electoral process.

Let's go back to 1984. New Zealand's closest relative to Robert Mugabe has just lost the snap election after successfully hiding the true scale of his totalitarian mismanagement of the economy. The incoming Labour administration has opened the books and gone omfg this is worse than than anyone ever imagined. It was as if they had been given a billion maxed-out credit cards and could barely afford the minimum payments. The debt collectors were very close to being called in.

Roger Douglas' economic revolution was a direct consequence of Muldoon's lack of fiscal transparency. State assets were not sold just for the hell of it. The country was so deep in the shit, the only hope lay in selling the silver to save the country from slipping from Second World to Third World. Restructuring by the Fourth Labour Government ensured New Zealand's place in the First World.

Fast forward to 1990. The Fourth Labour Government is going through loud and painful death rattles. With leadership changes happening with alarming regularity, the last thing it needs to advertise coming into an election is a massive fiscal blowout. Lo and behold, the Nats storm to victory in a landslide. Ruth Richardson opens the books and goes omfg this is worse than anyone imagined. It was as if a bank had given out credit cards to a billion monkeys and dropped them outside the Bananas-R-Us megamall.

Ruth Richardson's Mother of All Budgets was a direct consequence of Labour IV's lack of fiscal transparency. Welfare was cut back not out of any specific hatred of beneficiaries, but an urgent need to cut spending and trimming the less productive government programs where possible. Selling assets wasn't really an option as there wasn't much left of value that hadn't already been knocked off in the pawn shop.

By now, the General Electorate was thoroughly pissed off with politicians. Election manifestos were rightly viewed with cynicism and distrust as a history of broken promises piled up at the door of both main parties. The citizens vented their spleen by favouring a new system of representation, anything that would stop this violent lurching about from rattling the crockery.

Unfortunately, we got MMP not STV. Instead of a system that balanced proportionality with majority rule, we stuck ourselves with shifting the power from the people to the parties. The role of electorate MP has moved from being a respected people's representative to a piggy bank for party propaganda units. The party vote is all that matters now and parties are the only winners.

It also did not fix the essential problem; ensuring that governments maintain open and accountable information so incoming governments weren't faced with undeclared financial black holes that forced them into crisis management all the time.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act did. It forced every budget to append figures, costs, estimates, explanations. No bullshit, all up front. Evidence of how effective this legislation worked was seen with Labour V's ascension to power in 1999. There were no nasty surprises. Even while the Asian Tiger was still wincing, New Zealand weathered it all unscathed.

So here we are in 2005 again. The FRA is in the past tense, superceded by the Public Finance Amendment Act 2004. While most punters (myself included) couldn't tell an OBERAC from a TARDIS, the consequences of this trashy piece of legislation are finally emerging in layman's terms. We are back to the same old opaque shit.

How else could Michael Cullen have hidden $1.9 billion away for election bribes? How else could respected costings from Treasury get buried by the incumbents? Are there any other skeletons we should know about or are we going to force a future government to hock off the TV, stereo and heater? Who can tell any more?

Who cares? As long as we are entertained by juicy gossip and not bored by irrelevant stuff such as policy or economics, we are happy. And if the economy runs red, we can always blame the government again.

Happy voting.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Rehnquist's prescription

Rehnquist's elevation to Chief Justice was a role model for dope fiends everywhere, showing that chemical addictions should not stop you from becoming the highest in your field. While polite obituaries dote on US Chief Justice Rehnquist's passing, Slate draws attention to the hypocrisy of a Placidyl-popping magistrate presiding in a justice system that jails lesser drug users.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Football season is over

Hunter S Thompson takes ownership of things in his last communications:

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt."
Rolling Stone


Highlights of the article include Honour, Respect, Quality of Life, the Rights and Rites of the Weird, NIMBYism, and How To Deal With The Media:

"If you want to print the fact that neighbors are shooting at paparazzi, please do," (HST neighbour) Ibbotson told the Aspen Times. "It might save us a little hassle on the day of the event."

Friday, September 09, 2005

New Orleans New Iraq?

Battle-hardened National Guard troops, fresh from service in Iraq, have arrived in New Orleans to bring law and order to the city. Reporters are noting an increasingly hostile stance according to the International Movie Database. This is not Vietnam, you know.

Directly under this article, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been reported asking "no photographs of the deceased be made by the media." Nothing to see here, move along. As New Zealand's news media rely on USA feeds, only this sanitised information will dribble through here too.

With the bill for the disaster already looking at hitting US$200 billion, it will easily compare with the Iraq incursion as fiscally unaffordable. It does not bode well for the federal deficit, already hitting US$ 331 billion. The Sydney Morning Herald goes into more detail.

When the USA gets hurt, everyone screams. Expect turbulence.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Fuck the polls

At last, proof that polls are as reliable as chicken entrails. The latest TV3 TNS poll shows a 17 point swing to Labour over five days. Frog, in a rare show of understatement, calls it puzzling. I call it complete bullshit.

It is time for media outlets to release full methodologies and raw data to back up these alleged facts if they are to present them as Headline News. I want evidence! If other branches of the scientific community have their studies peer-reviewed, open-sourced if you will, it is good enough for polling companies.

The electorate may be volatile but it is not bipolar. However, some wildly improbable reasons for this sadistic statistic must be examined before we can justifiably dismiss it all as hokum. Frog's best guess is the last poll was a Nat Spike. This falls into line with Labour's response at the time, that of a Rogue Poll. National fluked it. Perhaps. If tax and race are the Nats only big guns and there's no joker up the sleeve, they have indeed spiked.

National has not done as much damage in Labour's Education and Health weaknesses as I had anticipated. Maybe they are the king-hitters for the week before E-Day. Something like tax deductible private health insurance and introducing the International Baccalaureate as the external benchmark for Education sectors might work.

One question at the Aro Valley meeting was whether Maori language teaching should be compulsory for primary school children. The first component of the IB has a provision for this, and so it should. Any second language will do and it might as well be Maori. I'd personally recommend Spanish or Mandarin for my kids, but that's just my opinion. Each to their own.

But I digress. 17 points is too dramatic to blame on a fall from apotheosis. The Greens' own levels of polling further discourage this explanation. One week they're barely making 5%, the next they are the third largest party. No, really.

Another possibility is that the polls are true and accurate but are picking up the static of the General Electorate. It does exist, that hiss as voters admit to pollsters that they really don't know who the fuck to believe any more but today they'll say Blah.

I admit falling in this category. Yeah, I'm a lapsed Act member. I'd like to vote for them, but I just can't vote for a party with Muriel Newman in it. I used to think the same about Stephen Franks, but last night he seemed to have a lot less liberal chill than normal. Maybe he's a man with nothing to lose and just doesn't give a fuck any more. About bloody time.

There's no way that I'll vote National. They're just too white bread. Too much meat and two vege with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Perhaps in a later incarnation of it, when DPF is party president or something.

I've voted Labour before and I'll do it again, but this year I don't think so. They've run out of ideas for now. Power corrupts.

Voting Green would feel good at the time, but would I wake up the next day and regret it? I'd really like to vote for the Greens if they weren't such a bunch of earnest self-sanctimonious do-gooders. The Greens are the reason I'd keep state assets for now. We'll need something to sell off later to pay the bill.

No other parties rate. UFO and NZ First are toxic for all sorts of personal and professional reasons. Maori Party are well-meaning but racist and clumsy. Liberterianz only exist to make Act look moderate. It's times like this I wish there was space on the ballot to tick "none of the above." If only it were that easy to have a vote of no confidence in one's representatives!

If there are many more voters in the same schooner, then the polls mean nothing. Like Schrodinger, we won't know where the cat's at until we open the box on the night of Sept 17. Welcome to NZ's first election based on the Uncertainty Principle.

One more possibility worth noting is that the recent price rises mean a disproportionate number of Labour voters are at home answering polls as conservative voters are the only ones able to afford to drive.

Here's my guess; it's all voodoo. Polls belong with the other soothsayers, tarot readers, psychics, astrologers and card sharps. When you can't be fucked finding a story, commission a poll. Instant news and a good return on your investment. Polls are the Reality TV of the news media. Cheap entertainment value only. Don't expect deep, just thick.

If you're interested in finding out more on the role of the media, the Vic Uni Continuing Education 6 O'clock Lecture Series has a doozy coming up:

Election 05: Will the media cast the final vote?

The 2005 election campaign is now in full swing. As our political leaders increasingly use the media to battle it out for our votes, join us for an examination of the role played by the media in this year's campaign using comparisons with past elections here and overseas.

To what extent do the media report the campaign, and to what extent do they create it?

Lecture Theatre 2, Ground floor, Rutherford House
23 Lambton Quay, Victoria University Pipitea campus, Wellington.
Free entry

Guest speaker: Kate McMillan is a Lecturer in Comparative Politics and teaches courses on the media and politics at at Victoria University.

Kindling a light

Just when weary cynicism bites deep with an election campaign focussed entirely on the loonery and fakery of media soundbites, along comes an event that demonstrates how it is supposed to be done; last night's Aro Valley Meet the Candidates meeting.

Arriving mere minutes before kick-off was a silly move. Fortunately, ALCP candidate Michael Appleby hurried through the crowd allowing me to slide in his slipsteam through to a reasonably decent position in the main hall. A laugh went through the crowd as Apples pursed his lips a la toke as reason for his delay. Act's Stephen Franks arrived even later so Dagg knows what his excuse was.

As has been noted elsewhere, the community hall was filled to overflowing. Although fire regs were undoubtedly broken, you just knew that if a fire did break out, everyone would have helped where they could to put it out. It was that sort of crowd. Bowls of Minties made their way through the crowd during the speaking, a communion to the egalitarianism of the moment.

On the whole, it was a dirt-free dozen candidates who kept things informative and witty throughout the night. This may have been assisted by the absence of the NZ First candidate. I suppose Winston P can't be everywhere. Even Mark Blumsky and Stephen Franks, completely out of their comfort zones in the Greens' ghetto, managed to get the crowd on side at surprising times.

Although Sue Kedgeley was amongst a supportive crowd, enough barbs were aimed at Green policies to keep her humble. The trolley bus ambulances jibe was particularly inspired. Marion Hobbs may have a booming voice which deafened some in the front rows, but a consistent static of heckles and burbling drowned out whatever she was talking about most of the time for punters further away.

Question time was a fast and furious affair characterised by the rule that if you can put a question mark on the end of it, someone asked it.

Fiona "I am not a prostitute" McKenzie from United Future may have unwittingly added some new policies that her boss might not agree with. The Maori Party's Morrie Love was generally well-regarded but hummed a bit too long when someone asked him on his stance on civil unions and abortion rights.

New Zealand's answer to Bluntman and Chronic stormed into action after the meeting. DPF and Gman chased a villain down an alleyway after an attempt was made to yoghurt Marion Hobbs. I hope the point was not lost on the witnesses; one person's sexism is another one's chivalry!

Thank you to all those who made it a great night out.